By Gretchen McKay

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tips for making ice pops

• Puree the heck out of the ingredients or you’ll end up with a chunky ice pop. If you’re using fruit with small seeds, strain it after it is pureed in the blender.

• Cold liquids freeze quicker, so always start with a chilled mixture. That includes bringing syrups to room temperature.

• When making ice pops with separate layers, be sure to freeze each layer until it’s set or it will bleed into the next.

• When filling, always leave about a quarter inch at the top of the mold to allow for expansion during freezing. Remember to wipe excess liquid from the top of the mold as frozen residue can complicate the unmolding process.

• To unmold a frozen pop without pulling out the stick, turn warm water on the outside of the mold for 10 to 15 seconds, or until you feel the pop begin to release. Or, use a towel dampened in warm water.

• Ice pop molds with built-in stick holders take the worry out of positioning the stick. But if you’re going old school with a Dixie cup and wooden stick, freeze the pop until it’s partially frozen (about an hour) so the stick will stand up on its own. Then, return the pops to the freezer until they’re completely frozen.

• The back of the freezer is the coldest, so that’s where the molds should go. Freezing times will vary but it generally takes at least four hours.

• When well wrapped in sealable plastic bags or airtight plastic containers, ice pops will last in the freezer for about a month.

It’s August, and you know what that means. Hot, sunny days that morph into muggy nights.

Even after a dip in the pool or a run through the sprinkler, you and your kids are probably hot. You need something cold and tasty to cool off.

We have the answer: homemade ice pops.

Simple enough for even the youngest cooks to lend a hand, these frozen treats have helped people beat the heat since 1905, when 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a cup filled with powdered soda, water and a stirring stick on his San Francisco back porch, and the mixture froze in the chilly night air. He’d debut his “Epsicles” at a California park in 1923, start distributing them across the U.S. two years later and in the following years build a frosty empire. Today, some 2 billion Popsicle brand ice pops are sold each year in multiple flavors and colors.

While it’s easy to pick up a box of pops at the grocery, it’s almost as easy — and way more fun — to make them in your own kitchen, especially if you have little hands to help. All it takes is a handful of ingredients, a blender or food processor to whirl them into a freezable liquid, and some sort of mold with a stick.

It could be as simple as blending some fruit with a little sugar in water and popping the mixture into the freezer, or you could spend a couple of hours layering different colored purees into a striped masterpiece.

Why go to the trouble? Making ice pops at home allows you to control the amount of sugar in the treats and also puts the kibosh on artificial flavors and preservatives. Plus, it allows you to add your own creative touch in the form of herbs and spices.

Websites such as Amazon have dozens of plastic and silicon molds in all price ranges and colors to choose from, and you’ll also find them at big box stores like Target. You can also make ice pops in any type of freezable container. Think paper Dixie cups, spare ice-cube trays, plastic drink cups or even yogurt containers.

And you don’t even have to limit yourself to Popsicle’s all-time favorite cherry flavor, because almost any fruit or vegetable that can be pureed can be turned into an ice pop. If you want fresh and fruity, go for strawberries, peaches, melons or tropical fruits such as pineapple or kiwi; think spinach, carrots and roasted beets if you’re trying to get a serving of vegetables into your kid.

For an adults-only treat, add some alcohol and a flavored simple syrup to recreate your favorite frozen cocktail — for instance, vodka and ginger-infused syrup for a Moscow mule pop. Just know that doing so will lower the melting point, resulting in a softer ice pop.

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